Business group wants to influence 2016 campaign

AP News
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Posted: Oct 23, 2015 2:41 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — With millions of dollars to spend, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said Friday it's looking for opportunities to get involved in Democratic Party primary races next year to help block far-left candidates.

The business lobbying group largely supports Republican candidates at election time. It hasn't been involved in a Democratic primary before. But the group says it is worried there is a move away from the center in the Democratic Party as well at the Republican Party.

"We're also very concerned about the move to the far, far, far left and what that's doing to the Democratic Party," Thomas Donohue, the group's president and CEO, said at a meeting with reporters initiated by The Christian Science Monitor. "If we ever got some opportunities there, we would think about that."

The chamber is the largest lobbying group in Washington. It's always a major player in congressional races, though it keeps its vast resources out of the presidential races. Nevertheless, Donohue described the current Republican primary as the most interesting one he's seen in a long time, and he expressed doubts that Donald Trump will be the party's eventual nominee.

"He's an articulation of frustration. He is somebody who will be a positive participant in this process for a while," Donohue said. "My own view is, if other candidates on both sides focus the message a little more clearly, I don't think he'll keep the lead he now has."

The Chamber is expected to spend tens of millions of dollars in the 2016 election. It will first look at how it could influence about two dozen open seats in the House and keeping the Senate under GOP control. From there, it's looking for opportunities to support candidates that will work with other lawmakers to find a common way forward to solve America's problems, Donohue said. Chamber officials did not cite particular races in which they planned to flex their financial might.

"We need to fix the potholes. We need to deal with immigration because we need those workers," Donohue said. "We need to stop the behavior here in Washington where people look at us all and wonder what planet we're from."

Chamber officials acknowledged it would be difficult to unseat many incumbents on the far right or far left.

"Some of the tea party members ... I would have to say are fairly entrenched. There is not going to be a viable challenger to succeed against them," said R. Bruce Josten, the chamber's executive vice president for government affairs. "We're not going to put good money after a bad outcome."

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This version corrects the spelling of Donohue.